RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Ben McLemore

Posted by BHayes on June 26th, 2013

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The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Ben McLemore

School: Kansas

Height/Weight: 6’5”/190 lbs.

NBA Position: Shooting Guard

Projected Draft Range: Top 5-10

Ben McLemore pairs jaw-dropping athleticism with a silky-smooth jump shot

Ben McLemore pairs jaw-dropping athleticism with a silky-smooth jump shot

Overview: Ben McLemore’s decision to enter the NBA Draft came as a surprise to no one. After a successful freshman season in which he often found the occasion to flash his massive potential, the time was now for McLemore to make the leap to the pros. Anyone familiar with his game know the knocks – too nice, passive, doesn’t want to dominate. His road to Lawrence, and now the league, has also been well chronicled. McLemore overcame an impoverished childhood and unsteady home life to develop into a prized recruit, and equally impressively, a great young man (by all accounts). Last season, McLemore averaged 15.9 points per game and shot 42% from three-point range for a Kansas team that earned a #1 seed to the NCAA Tournament. Despite the complaints of passivity, McLemore did have a slew of dominant performances as a freshman. They included a 33-point outing and OT-inducing three in a victory over Iowa State, a 30-point effort versus rival Kansas State, and a 36-point explosion in a rout of West Virginia. The challenge for scouts is to determine whether McLemore will ever be able to turn those 40-minute displays into consistent elite play, but if nothing else, Ben McLemore’s freshman season revealed a player with a skill set you don’t often find.

Will Translate to the NBA: McLemore is the best shooter in this draft. Concerns about his willingness to be demonstrative and take over games are well-founded, but if you can get him open looks, he will knock down shots. Everything is picture-perfect mechanically with the stroke, and McLemore is also able to shoot over the top of defenders by getting great lift on his jumper. Athletically, the Kansas product will also prove ready for the league. He’s a smooth but explosive leaper that excels in transition, and his length should assist him in becoming a good, if not great, defender at the next level. All the raw materials are in place for McLemore to be great – what will prevent him from putting them immediately to use will be his youth and immaturity, if anything.

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The RTC Offseason Podcast: NBA Draft Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 26th, 2013

The RTC Podcast crew hopes that you’re all having a good early summer out there in America-land. With a little over 24 hours left until the 2013 NBA Draft goes down in Brooklyn, we decided to come in with our takes on the draft from the perspective of guys who have analyzed many of these players very closely for the last several years. To provide the usual duo with a third voice of reason, we invited RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler), who has been putting in yeoman’s work the last couple of weeks in profiling many of the top stars who will hear their names called by David Stern tomorrow night. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) is our host, and the rundown of topics is listed below. We’ll see you again sometime in July!

  • 0:00-5:51 – What Separates NBA players and college players
  • 5:51-10:53 – Your #1 Overall Pick
  • 10:53-15:55 – Late Lottery Love
  • 15:55-20:22 College Star NBA Guys Are Overlooking
  • 20:22-22:50 – Potential Busts
  • 22:50-26:10 – College Coaches Beaming With Pride Thursday Night
  • 26:10- 29:04 – Draft Picks That Will Leave the Biggest Hole on Their College Team
  • 29:04- 31:28 – Players That Can Be Replaced
  • 31:28-38:17 – Can Alex Len and Ben McLemore Come Out of their Shells?
  • 38:17-41:51 – Picks to Look For in 2014
  • 41:51-43:09 – Who Will Go #1/Wrap
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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Trey Burke

Posted by BHayes on June 26th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Trey Burke

School: Michigan

Height/Weight: 6’1” / 190 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard

Projected Draft Range: Top Ten

Will Trey Burke bring his winning ways with him to the the NBA?

Will Trey Burke bring his winning ways with him to the the NBA?

Overview: After flirting with the NBA a year ago, Trey Burke had almost no choice but to take the plunge this go-around. When you lead your team to the National Championship game, collect a smorgasbord of National POY trophies, and produce one of the most indelible March moments of recent memory, your draft stock can’t really get much higher. Burke’s stellar season is well-documented at this point, but it’s worth noting the drastic improvement in efficiency for Burke between years one and two at Michigan. He cut his turnover rate from 18.6% to 13.4%, increased his assist rate, and shot the ball better from the free throw line, two-point range, and beyond the arc. Oh, and he did all this in one of the best conferences college basketball has seen in years. Burke did everything he could on the court to impress scouts, but there are still concerns about his viability as an NBA point guard.  His height (barely six feet) scares a lot of teams, and both lateral mobility and overall athleticism has come into question with Burke. Some of the concerns are not dissimilar from those scouts had with Chris Paul before he entered the league, and Burke’s fiery demeanor and leadership also conjure up memories of a young Paul. But Burke is well behind where Paul was as a prospect, and if he ever hopes to come close to making the kind of impact Paul has made in the league, he will have to provide resounding answers to the questions that currently surround him. A tall (no pun intended) task ahead, but anyone who watched Trey Burke for the past two years knows better than to count him out.

Will Translate to the NBA: There may be some athletic limitations in play with Burke, but the diminutive point guard’s offensive game is quite evolved. He shoots the ball extremely well – both off the dribble and in catch and shoot situations – and gets teammates involved by driving and kicking. He is a great decision-maker who limited turnovers last season despite having the ball in his hands all the time. The length of NBA defenders will test Burke, but there are very few holes in his offensive game. Burke is also a winner, through and through. He wants the ball in clutch situations, demands the most from his teammates, and works tirelessly at his game. There is no player in this draft better suited to step in and lead a team from day one than Burke.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Anthony Bennett

Posted by BHayes on June 25th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take fromNBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Anthony Bennett

School: UNLV

Height/Weight: 6’7”/240 lbs.

NBA Position: Power Forward

Projected Draft Range: Top 5-10

Anthony Bennett was an imposing presence on the UNLV front line last season

Anthony Bennett was an imposing presence on the UNLV front line last season

Overview: Anthony Bennett needed just one season at UNLV to prove he was ready for the next level. Dave Rice assembled an amazing collection of talent in Vegas this past season, and despite the team failing to find success commensurate with the sum of those pieces, their freshman star rarely failed to impress. Bennett averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game in a brutal Mountain West Conference last season, and proved equally capable of stepping out and knocking down the three (over one make per game on 38% shooting) as he was throwing down a thunderous dunk down low (there were 42 of those). He is slightly undersized for a post at 6’7”, but a 7’1” wingspan and great athleticism eases any concerns about Bennett finding a home down low in the NBA. A shoulder injury has limited his recent availability, keeping him out of the combine, but the injury itself should not be an issue moving forward. Of more concern is the fact that Bennett has put on some 20 pounds since the end of the season – one of the few red flags (albeit a small one) for a player many consider to be the most talented in the entire draft. The top of the 2013 NBA Draft class has taken its share of pummeling over the last two months, and in most regards, deservedly so. In a draft devoid of elite talent, Bennett is one player with explosive, exciting upside – something college basketball fans bore witness to last season.

Will Translate to the NBA: Bennett often looked like a man among boys in the college ranks last season, where he was at his ferocious best grabbing rebounds and attacking the rim. While he is undersized for an NBA power forward at 6’7”, don’t expect that to stop him from having a similar impact on NBA backboards. His motor is nonstop, and he shows no fear around the rim. And let’s not forget about the massive wingspan, freakish athleticism, and soft hands that make him such an efficient finisher. We can’t be sure if he will be ready to guard in the league from day one, but his raw tools and polished finishing ability should allow him to have an offensive impact from the get-go.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: C.J. McCollum

Posted by BHayes on June 25th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take fromNBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: C.J. McCollum

School: Lehigh

Height/Weight: 6’3”/197 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard/Shooting Guard

Projected Draft Range: Lottery

C.J. McCollum looks to be just the second Patriot League player to be drafted in the NBA's first round

C.J. McCollum looks to become just the second Patriot League player to be drafted in the NBA’s first round

Overview: College basketball just wasn’t the same in 2013, as one of America’s favorite players played just 15 minutes of college basketball after the New Year arrived. C.J. McCollum broke his foot on January 5 in a game at VCU, an injury that would wind up closing down one of the most accomplished college hoops careers of recent memory. Loyal college basketball fans have known about the kid making noise in the Patriot League for some time now, but he made his formal introduction to America in March 2012, when his 30-point performance paced #15-seeded Lehigh to an upset victory over the #2-seeded Duke Blue Devils. It was hard not to notice that McCollum was the best player on the floor that night, and in a game against a team full of NBA talent, mind you. His draft stock was off and running at that point, and even the January injury has done little to slow the momentum. McCollum is now fully healthy and teams don’t seem concerned about the foot, leaving the Lehigh graduate poised to become just the second first-round pick ever selected out of the Patriot League. Questions remain about whether McCollum is a point guard or shooting guard at the next level, but one way or another, this silky smooth scorer should be able to find ways to put the ball in the bucket in the NBA.

Will Translate to the NBA: McCollum’s game is NBA-ready in a number of ways, but it’s first worth noting that from a personal standpoint, CJ McCollum the kid is also ready. Every year we see players enter the league who are simply not prepared to be a professional in anything. McCollum’s four years at Lehigh have served him well, and the mature, thoughtful and confident former Mountain Hawk is ready to tackle his next challenge. Oh, and his game is also prepared for the jump. He’s an NBA-ready scorer who can shoot the ball from deep and put the ball on the floor. Unlike many players today, he possesses a nice mid-range game which will only prove more useful at the next level. A high IQ player that uses savvy on both ends, McCollum has a knack for jumping passing lanes and getting out in transition. He is also a tremendous rebounder for a guard (over five rebounds a game in all four seasons, including 7.8 caroms per contest as a sophomore), a fact that has to ease a little of the concern that he is too small to play shooting guard in the NBA. More so than most in this draft, C.J. McCollum is ready for all the rigors the NBA has to offer.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Alex Len

Posted by BHayes on June 24th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Alex Len

School: Maryland

Height/Weight: 7’1” / 255 lbs.

NBA Position: Center

Projected Draft Range: Top Ten

In his signature performance of 2013, Alex Len dominated Mason Plumlee during Maryland's upset of Duke

In his signature performance of 2013, Alex Len dominated Mason Plumlee during Maryland’s upset of Duke

Overview: Alex Len put together a very impressive sophomore season in College Park. His freshman year may have included (relatively) limited individual production, but it offered plenty of glimpses at the massive upside of the Ukrainian-born seven-footer, and we began to see Len cash in on that potential in year two. He played 26 minutes per game as part of Mark Turgeon’s 10-man rotation and averaged 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per contest. Free throw shooting improved (both percentage and attempts), assist-to-turnover ratio elevated, and offensive-rebounding percentage shot through the roof for Len as a sophomore. All wonderful strides, but the development went well beyond the stat sheet for Len, as anyone consistently watching the Terps this season witnessed a more complete, confident player manning the middle. Len was tougher and more aggressive down low (on both ends) and also more skilled offensively — both with his back to the basket and when roaming the high-post area. Len’s improvement was best highlighted in dominant performances against fellow potential lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Mason Plumlee. In the season opener against Kentucky, Len went for 23/12 versus Noel in a narrow loss. Then, in the February win over Duke, he dominated Plumlee (four points, three rebounds, five fouls) in scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Those two performances were as vital to Len’s draft stock as anything, for as far as he came skill-wise in year two at Maryland, he also made it quite clear that he was not ready to back down to anyone – a fearlessness that NBA GMs have to have begun to appreciate.

Will Translate to the NBA: First things first: when it comes to size and athleticism, Len is already working with above-average NBA levels of both. Will he use that raw ability as efficiently as possible? No, but the pure existence of it means he will be prepared to get on the court and not be overwhelmed by the athleticism of NBA opponents. Aside from his frame and athleticism, Len really doesn’t have any other signature attributes that you would term “NBA-ready.” The closest we can come here is probably commenting that his overall offensive game is much further along than that of many of his draft-mates, and unlike most rookie big men, Len may be able to enter the league and flash a little of that offensive skill right off the bat. He has a soft touch down low, an improving mid-range game, and is also a good passer who will move the ball when doubled. None of these traits may be “NBA-ready” on their own, but the overall offensive package is in pretty good shape as Len makes the transition from college to the pros.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Cody Zeller

Posted by BHayes on June 24th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Cody Zeller

School: Indiana

Height/Weight: 7’0”/230 lbs.

NBA Position: Power Forward/Center

Projected Draft Range: Lottery

After an up and down season, Cody Zeller's stock is on the rise again

After an up and down season, Cody Zeller’s stock is on the rise again

Overview: Cody Zeller’s draft stock took a pretty solid beating in February and March, but a head-turning performance at the combine has him rising up draft boards again. Zeller is the perfect example of a player who so many once considered overrated that he has now become underrated. IU’s big man was a presumptive top-five pick if he had entered the draft a year ago, but opted to return for another year of college. He hoped his sophomore year would see his draft stock improve and his team flourish, but despite posting season averages of 16.5 PPG and 8.1 RPG, the latter came to fruition without the former. Teammate Victor Oladipo would become the real beneficiary of the Indiana revival, as the Hoosiers’ 29-win season launched Oladipo from the second round bubble into the top five. Zeller was not so fortunate. A real candidate to be the top pick in the draft back before the season, Zeller rarely dominated (his supporters would tell you he never needed to for IU to be successful) and often looked overwhelmed when playing deep in the post. In what would prove to be his final collegiate game against Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, Zeller’s performance was a microcosm of the growing concerns scouts have had about him, as he looked very timid down low in a 3-of-11 shooting outing against the Orange’s long, NBA-esque front line. The days after the IU tournament exit marked the nadir of Zeller’s draft stock, but the combine and interviews have helped his stock rebound immensely. He will not be the top pick in this draft, and likely won’t fall within the top five – a different reality than he expected to find here a year ago, but Cody Zeller enters the draft with good momentum and a real ability to immediately help whichever franchise selects him.

Will Translate to the NBA: Let’s take Zeller’s primary strength a step further than “NBA-ready” – he very well could enter the league and immediately be the fastest end-to-end big man in the league. That top spot can surely be debated, but the point is that most NBA post players will find keeping up with Zeller in the fullcourt to be quite a chore. Zeller’s end-to-end speed is truly elite and we have known this for awhile, but the extent of his athletic ability came to light at the combine. Nobody benefited more from the combine than Miami’s Shane Larkin and Zeller, with the former Indiana star testing out like a guard in Chicago. His vertical leap was 37.5”, and both his ¾ and lane agility times beat out most wings and a number of guards. That explosiveness wasn’t always on display in college, and Zeller will definitely need to continue to learn how to best apply it on the court, but the physical tools are clearly there. Furthermore, Zeller is a high-character guy who has shown a willingness to get better, so consider him NBA-ready from a personal maturity standpoint as well.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Michael Carter-Williams

Posted by BHayes on June 20th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Michael Carter-Williams

School: Syracuse

Height/Weight: 6’6”/ 185 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard

Projected Draft Range: Lottery to Mid-First Round

Good things seemed to happen for Syracuse last season when the ball was in Michael Carter-Williams' hands

Good things seemed to happen for Syracuse last season when the ball was in Michael Carter-Williams’ hands

Overview: He only spent one year earning real minutes under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, but Michael Carter-Williams (also known as MCW) showcased his unique skill set during the 2012-13 season. His final stat line does well to express his diverse impact on a Syracuse squad that concluded its campaign in Atlanta and the Final Four: 11.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.9 RPG, 2.8 SPG. The former McDonald’s All-American led the Big East in both steals and assists, and in the process became the key cog on a team loaded with talent. There were bumps in the road – inconsistent shooting, a drop in production during Big East play, that Syracuse mid-season swoon – but Carter-Williams’ frequent dynamic performances still left NBA scouts salivating. Even during a freshman season where he witnessed only 269 total minutes of court time, MCW showed enough to pique the interest of scouts. The sophomore’s emergence was far more confirmation than pleasant surprise, and it now leaves him on the doorstep of the NBA. Much progress still needs to be made when it comes to skill development, but you have to believe whichever NBA team winds up selecting Carter-Williams will have big hopes for the player who may just have the highest ceiling in the entire draft.

Will Translate to the NBA: The reality is that Carter-Williams is a pretty raw prospect at this point. He will need further schooling and seasoning on both ends of the court to get up to speed in the NBA, but he does enter the league with some NBA-ready tools.  First, and most obviously, his measurables are fantastic. He is extraordinarily long and athletic for the PG position, and it will be those traits that help to overcome some of his current skill deficiencies while he adjusts to the league. And while development is needed in a lot of areas, MCW already flashes many attributes of successful NBA point guards. His Syracuse teammates of a year ago can attest to the fact that his floor vision is very good (you are welcome James Southerland!) and despite his unusual size, ball-handling and passing are both plus attributes for Carter-Williams. Early minutes will depend on where he lands of course, but don’t expect Carter-Williams to be overwhelmed with the athleticism of the league, and he could even prove capable of providing a spark to a second unit from day one.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Jamaal Franklin

Posted by BHayes on June 10th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take fromNBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Jamaal Franklin

School: San Diego State

Height/Weight: 6’5”/190 lbs.

NBA Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Jamaal Franklin is not one to lack in confidence, but will his manic, aggressive game translate to the NBA?

Jamaal Franklin is not one to lack in confidence, but will his manic, aggressive game translate to the NBA?

Overview: After highly productive sophomore and junior seasons, Jamaal Franklin decided the time was now to depart San Diego State for the NBA Draft. The explosive wing helped key the continued success of Steve Fisher’s program, as the Aztecs earned top eight seeds in the NCAA Tournament in each of Franklin’s three seasons there. There is little that is prototypical about Franklin’s game. He is a scoring wing who struggles to shoot the ball from deep (just 28% from three-point range last season) but rebounds the ball as productively as any big (his 26.4% defensive rebound rate was 10th nationally a year ago). Franklin’s unconventional game will undoubtedly undergo some tweaking at the next level, as whispers of an improved jump shot and the nature of the bigger, more athletic front lines in the league should have him spending more time on the perimeter. Adjustments will be needed to reach his potential, but if Franklin continues to display the hyper-competitiveness and endless motor that fueled his prodigious collegiate efforts, whichever team ends up using a selection on the 2012 MW POY should end up a happy buyer indeed.

Will Translate to the NBA: Pairing Franklin’s natural competitiveness with his athletic ability makes him an NBA-ready defender from the get-go. He also graded out very well in measurements at the combine (despite not participating in any activities due to an ankle injury), and although just 6’5”, his seven-foot wingspan should allow him to see time at both the two and the three in the NBA. And while you can rest assured that Franklin will not be rebounding at the clip we witnessed at San Diego State, that length, combined with his superb bounciness, will make him an above-average rebounder from the wing early in his NBA career.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Gorgui Dieng

Posted by BHayes on June 5th, 2013

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Gorgui Dieng

School: Louisville

Height/Weight: 6’11”/230 lbs.

NBA Position: Center

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Gorgui Dieng's overall presence on the defensive end was crucial for the 2013 NCAA Champs

Gorgui Dieng’s overall presence on the defensive end was crucial for the 2013 NCAA Champs

Overview: His ceiling may not be as high as that of many of his draft-mates, but Gorgui Dieng should serve as a safe investment for a team on the back end of the first round. The Senegalese big man spent the last three seasons anchoring the paint for the reigning NCAA Champion Louisville Cardinals. Despite never averaging double figures in points per game, he still found ways to deliver significant impact for the Cards. In fact, a legitimate argument could be constructed that Dieng was the most valuable player for the 2013 champs (all due apologies to Russ Smith). The bulk of Dieng’s value came on the defensive end, where his disciplined shot-blocking served as an ideal back line of defense for Rick Pitino’s aggressive, risk-taking approach to guarding the perimeter. And while Dieng may never be mistaken for a prolific scorer on the other end, his offensive game did accumulate some polish over the course of his years at the ‘Ville, as he enters the draft as a capable 12-15 foot jump shooter and an above-average passer for a big man – two skills he could not have been given credit for two years ago. His title game effort against Michigan was a nice summation of his current skill set: eight points (on 4-6 shooting), eight rebounds, six assists, and three blocks. And of course, all those numbers came in a winning effort.  Beyond the talented cast of teammates and his own substantial abilities, it is no surprise that winning followed Dieng to Louisville, as he is the hard-working, high-character type that coaches love to find on their rosters.

Will Translate to the NBA: It should be a quick adjustment to NBA basketball on the defensive end for Dieng. At 230 pounds, he is a bit on the light side for NBA bigs, but he’s a capable, intelligent shot-blocker who always seems to be in the right position. Dieng is a solid athlete who is capable of stepping out to the perimeter and guarding his position there as well, and should also prove relatively adept in pick-and-roll defense, despite existing in a defensive scheme at Louisville that rarely included it as one of his duties. Additionally, it’s no secret that rebounding is one of the most translatable skills from college to the pros, and with Dieng’s top-100 national rankings in both defensive and offensive rebounding rates last year, it’s safe to assume he will prove ready for battle on the NBA backboards relatively early on.

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Breaking Down This Year’s Five Biggest NBA Draft Refusals

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 29th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The NBA Draft deadline can be a harrowing time for programs, coaches and their ever-vigilant fan bases. Player defections – particularly those of the lottery breed – not only control the fates of specific teams, they create massive rippling effects on college basketball writ large. Based on who does or doesn’t make their talents available to the most exclusively competitive sports league in North America, college basketball takes on a certain median composite talent distinction. Last season, that measure was low, and fans of all kinds made sure to scream and wail and cry foul about the dearth of “elite talent” and the oncoming barrenness of prospective upside on this year’s draft boards. “No dominant team” was a meme raised just as frequently, and by the end of the season, when two of the nation’s most talented teams navigated the predicted upset-laden waters of the NCAA Tournament and staged an epic final game – and when the nation’s “dominant team,” Louisville, actually won the whole thing – the conversation quickly turned to 2013-14.

With McDermott back, Creighton has every reason to be excited about its move into the Big East (Getty Images).

With McDermott back, Creighton has every reason to be excited about its move into the Big East (Getty Images).

That brings us to Sunday’s NBA Draft deadline, the real draft deadline, the one that actually forces players to make decisions about their professional futures, rather than the teethless NCAA-imposed early date created for the supposed benefit of coaches’ scholarship and recruiting calculations during the recruiting spring signing period. There were some notable departures this year, National Player of the Year award-sweeping point guard Trey Burke chief among them, but all in all the final count leaves college basketball with an immensely intriguing selection of returning players that – when mixed with one of the most highest-touted recruiting classes of the past 10 or so years – should produce a general quality of play that far exceeds last season’s occasionally-ugly level. I’ve come up with five players (or pairs of players) whose reappearance in the college ranks will contribute most directly to making this season not only hugely appealing for its freshmen stars – as is often the case in the one-and-done era – but experienced and deep and seasoned enough to produce a boundlessly exciting pool of players and teams. We are going to see a host of really good returning players in college basketball next season, and unlike last year, many of these guys won’t come off as totally unfamiliar. There’s some star power here – as in not in the NBA. Rejoice.

Doug McDermott – Creighton. The end of last season, brought upon by a Round of 32 NCAA Tournament loss to Duke, ushered Creighton into a programmatic transition: Beginning this season, the Bluejays will become members of the new Big East. They leave behind a good but measurably inferior Missouri Valley Conference, and the step up in competition promises to be fierce. It would have been a completely reasonable move for McDermott to stare down the present, understand the rigors of a more challenging conference schedule, the increased defensive attention from better athletes across a larger number of quality teams, and cut loose with program and father-coach after a successful three-year career. It would have made the most possible sense.

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Russ Smith’s Return to Louisville Inspires National Title Repeat Potential

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 25th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Most of college basketball’s truly elite programs annually grit their teeth and devise creative scholarship and recruiting stratagems to deal with an extremely unfortunate fact of roster life. The very best and most aspirational players usually aren’t in this here amateur basketball thing purely for the fun of it. They have their professional lives, their financial well-being, and that of their family’s, as overriding motivations to have the best and most NBA-translatable college career possible. They want to not only make it to the next level, but survive and enjoy the same unwavering fan support available at the college level (which, let’s just say professional fan bases are… blah) while earning the salary their talents rightfully warrant. Whereas in some cases the money and professional fame and draft stock considerations recommend a player’s departure after two or even one season, others elect to finish out their four years of eligibility in an uninterrupted cycle. These decisions – stay or go; money and bright lights or infectious fan bases and genuine campus pride; David Stern or Mark Emmert – are never easy, and if there ever were a case to illustrate the inner mental tug-of-war wrought in advance of a player’s draft decision, Louisville’s Russ Smith was an A-List prototype.

A return run to the Final Four, and possibly beyond, was made much more likely with Smith's announcement Wednesday (AP Photo).

A return run to the Final Four, and possibly beyond, was made much more likely with Smith’s announcement Wednesday (AP Photo).

Having already banked a Final Four appearance and national championship in consecutive seasons, won over the affection of his previously irascible head coach (to the point of influencing his racehorse naming rights), and scored boundless national media love over an endearingly reckless two years of mercurial point guard play, Russ Smith finished his national championship season with an utterly brutal decision to make: leave or stay? His erratic shooting and often-horrifying decision-making no doubt gave NBA scouts pause, as did his miniature stature and riverboat-gambler approach on the defensive end, but was it even reasonably possible that an eternally unrestrained Smith would boost his draft stock to any measurable degree in a potential return season? What were the chances Smith just was what he was, and anything he did next season wasn’t going to affect his status in such a way as to greatly improve his fortunes at the next level? Smith put the matter to rest Wednesday, and whether you agree with his decision on principle – whether you think it was in Smith’s best interest to cash in on a season that, in Ken Pomeroy’s wonky efficiency world, ranked better than any other last season – the upside for college hoops itself is tough to deny. Smith is back, and with the possible exception of Kentucky and its relentless fan base, everyone can come together in unison: This is a good thing.

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